photography by Craig Schneider, Power Creative
Chapter Gallery of Images

Chapter Three:
Next Up for Owensboro and Daviess County: A New Narrative That Stokes the Fires of Innovation

by Keith Schneider
October 17, 2011

A New Center Where The Old Existed

These recommendations, in concert with those Owensboro has already made, add up to a rare feat in American governance. Owensboro, in short, is busy rebuilding an essential feature of community life its productive center.

For a long time, almost two generations, Owensboro and Daviess County had no apparent center. The well-formed latticework of streets and avenues along the Ohio River that served as the center for much of the 19th and 20th centuries had dissolved by the late 1970s into rows of moldering buildings and acres of surface parking. A rough count of the downtown lots on Google Earth finds over 1,200 parking spaces, most of which are unoccupied during the week. The high-revving cheap fuel, fast food, four-on-the-floor engine of economic growth that stormed down the Ohio River Valley in the decades after World War II had, quite literally, leveled the buildings and flung the community’s civic equipment all over the county.

By 1991, when writers Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson arrived to study Owensboro and make recommendations in a series of articles for the Messenger-Inquirer, they were greeted by a community struggling to make sense of what it was. Peirce and Johnson implored Owensboro to “face up to a challenging set of shifts” in local and national economic trends and “make itself a more desirable place to live and ‘hack it’ in the harshly competitive world of the 1990s.”

It took 14 years for Owensboro and Daviess County to respond to that suggestion. But when it did, the community’s new development strategy unfolded with sure purpose and persistence. From 2006 to 2009, in new strategic plans and a well-attended community forum, the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation, We the People AmericaSpeaks 21st Century Town Meeting, and the Owensboro city government reached a striking consensus on the steps needed to forge a new path to prosperity. One emphasized downtown redevelopment. A second promoted recruiting talented people. A third emphasized public investments to increase business development, entrepreneurs, and higher education.

In 2009, the city commission and county fiscal court jointly approved a downtown master plan and a tax increase on personal and business insurance premiums to raise $80 million to support construction of streets, parks, and facilities. One of them is a $47 million, 169,000-square foot convention center, the signature architectural statement of Owensboro’s unfolding city core.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Chapter Video

Chapter 3 Video

Recommendations for More Success

  1. Undertake a New Community Strategic Plan – A new strategic planning initiative is needed to propel the city and county to the next stage of its progress as a center of opportunity.
  2. Cultivate and Recruit Women to Serve as Elected and Appointed Leaders – Almost 52 percent of Daviess County’s adults are women and that percentage is not reflected in elected positions in the city or county governments.
  3. Strengthen Internal and External Marketing and Communications – More focused outreach is vital to show citizens why a publicly-funded program of education, downtown development, and innovation makes sense in strengthening the economy over the next generation.
  4. Establish a Joint City-County Office of the Ombudsman – Thin out the cross-cutting permitting process while also providing the fairness and access that citizens expect.
  5. Establish and Fund the Owensboro Promise – Provide every graduate of the six Owensboro, Daviess County, and Catholic high schools scholarships for tuition and fees to attend a two- or four-year college in or outside Kentucky.
  6. Establish the Owensboro Top 20 Young Achievers Program – Provide the most talented young adults the chance to be part of Owensboro’s future and to stay connected.
  7. Foster Local Foods and Develop More Recreational Infrastructure – Healthier cities note their success as a marketing advan- tage in promotional campaigns.
  8. Generate More Diversity in Civic Life and Improve Business – Recruit investment and development capital from Asia, and especially from China.
  9. Promote New and Cleaner Energy Sources – Owensboro’s city-owned utility should serve as an innova- tor in carbon reduction technology, conservation, effi- ciency, solar development and other cutting edge thinking about energy production and consumption.
  10. Strengthen Transportation Hubs, Build a Streetcar Line – Owensboro’s opportunities over the next two decades are significant in air, ground, and river transportation.
  11. Put a Brake On Sprawl – Replace the love affair with big surface parking lots with a marriage to homes and businesses, recreation, and education infrastructure that is reachable on foot, on a bike, public transit, or a very short car ride.
  12. Promote Events and Bluegrass Music – Design and develop a new music center that houses the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
Public Life Foundation of Owensboro
The Citistates Group
Red Pixel Studios Website Development